Yesterday, December 9, Rosemary and I decided to take her son Steve down to Byron Bay, which he hasn't visited for about five years when he last stayed with us. It had been quite a stretch since we were last there too.
It's about a thirty minute drive to Byron from Pottsville. The speed limit is 110kph. It's a great freeway and a scenic drive. Yesterday was very hot. In Byron I should have turned left toward the beach and the Byron Hotel. Instead I turned right and we parked just past the roundabout opposite a great icecream parlour. Rosemary and I bought two large scoops each and walked back up to the beach with Steve following. The hotel bar was packed with maybe 200 people. They were jiving to the beat of a large black Samoan woman who was screaming into a microphone trying to make herself heard. She was succeeding, but only just.
Steve used to be an investment banker in Sydney. In 1998 he decided to quit his job and travel the world for a life of adventure. During this time he started writing films and ended up writing eleven screenplays. He also produced and directed a low budget film and did a lot of work editing it. He became intrigued with the question of what made a film successful.
He chose 2007 as the year to stop being a perpetual traveller and focus on building his financial wealth. He was going to begin by making documentaries but fate had other ideas, as fate so often does. At a Hollywood party he met a man who finances films. This man got talking about projects he was working on and Steve gave him some advice based on his experience in banking, which not only proved very valuable but was different from what he’d been told by other people. The two men formed a friendship in which they talked more and more about films. Steve soon realized that his own knowledge of finance and film was quite an unusual combination. He had five years of finance experience and an Honours Degree in banking and finance; he also had nine years studying film and he’d written all those screenplays. He observed that most people in Hollywood who work in film financing understand financing but not the creative side of things, and most people who work in the creative side of film understand creativity but they don’t understand financing.
Steve started asking his friends to send him projects they were looking at so he could look at them as well, and very soon he was reviewing significant Hollywood films and giving his opinion of them from a commercial point of view, and the people were following his advice in choosing whether or not to invest. His financier friend in the meantime was talking about a particular film that he was working to raise some money for. He was having trouble finding someone to invest in this project. Steve thought it strange that he would be going out and looking for people to invest in the film, because his experience was that in Hollywood everybody wants to invest in films.
So Steve asked an important question: "Who are the people who don’t go looking for money? Who are the people who have money looking for them?" And the response was, "The hedge funds." Steve decided that he would set up a hedge fund to invest in films. His friend didn't want to do this himself, for fear it would infringe on his privacy and change his lifestyle. The two men agreed that, given Steve's knowledge of film and of finance, and given his friend's experience in the film industry and his huge list of contacts, some ongoing relationship between the two of them would be beneficial – on the basis of course that the friend remains a silent entity and people aren’t approaching him about financing films.
So Steve sat down and wrote out a list of his thoughts on what makes a film profitable and what sort of criteria he had to have as an investor in films. When he’d finished, he found he'd written 16 pages of notes. From these he developed a very scientific set of questions about what a film should have in order to be financially successful, and from that list he found he could do a scientific analysis of films to see if in fact his model of what makes a film profitable matches with films already made.
He's in the process of completing the analysis and so far the model is accurate in determining whether a film will or won’t make money, based on a very specific, measurable set of criteria. The great thing is that this sort of work can be completed anywhere in the world, and he doesn't have to be in Hollywood right now. These days, laptops and mobile phones allow people to operate anywhere.
Steve's primary purpose in coming to Australia was to visit his Mum. What he didn't know was that she now co-facilitates the WordsFlow writers' group in Pottsville where we live. Naturally she invited him to come and address the group on screenwriting. He shared all sorts of nitty-gritty stuff, and held them enthralled.
With even greater synchronicity, his visit coincided with me getting the go-ahead from a local film company to turn my book Jorell into a movie. The next step is to write a synopsis and a screenplay. I was uncertain where to start, then Steve turned up with all the know-how! What I discovered was the basic fact that just because I'd written a book with what looked like good visual potential and plenty of topical drama – set in the scenic environment around Mt Warning, with a dispute between loggers and greenies – that didn't necessarily mean it would make a great screenplay in its present form. "They're called movies because they move," says Steve, and, "What's your target audience?"
So we're now deep in discussion – with some time out for him to revisit Byron Bay, which he calls "the heart and soul of Australia" because it's such a microcosm of quintessentially Aussie lifestyles. This will be the first Christmas he's actually spent with his Mum in 25 years. Then he's off to Sydney for New Year's Eve, and out again to Los Angeles early in the New Year.
My husband Andrew, who began this blog in October 2007, died peacefully on September 3rd 2012, at the age of 83, after long and well-controlled illness culminating in a sudden, brief decline. I'll be posting pieces of his life writing and autobiographical reminiscences to his other blog, The Game of Life. This blog will be used for other material relevant to Andrew, beginning with the wonderful tributes to him which poured in after his death, both by email and on facebook. At some point this blog will become an archive, without further additions.— Rosemary Nissen-Wade